The Concept Of Zero FIR in India

Published on 15 May 2018 by Shivi

(The article is written by Ms. Asma Arora and Mr. Siddharth Dalmia, students of OP Jindal Global University)

5 years ago, an atrocious act of a self-proclaimed godman, Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, alias, Asaram Bapu tormented the citizens of this country. He was accused of raping a minor girl who belonged to Sahajanpur, UP. She was a student, residing in one of his ashrams. The rape was committed in Jodhpur, Rajasthan where the girl and her family were called by the godman on the pretext of several false “spiritual” claims.

Aggrieved by the incident, the girl’s father approached the Jodhpur, and then the Saharanpur police to lodge an FIR. The police, however, refused to register a complaint owing to the influence Asa Ram exercised in both the cities. Then the father of the victim approached the police at Kamla Nagar Police Station, New Delhi and lodged an FIR.

This was made possible due to one of the many changes brought about by our justice system after the brutal Nirbhaya rape case which left the country in agony. The Nirbhaya gang rape appalled the then Manmohan Singh government. Subsequently, a judicial committee headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Justice J.S. Verma was constituted to propose stringent reforms in the management of crimes against women.

The scope of sexual offences was widened by criminalizing acts such as stalking and voyeurism. Delhi Commissioner of Police, Neeraj Kumar announced that Zero First Information Reports (FIR) may be registered on the basis of a woman’s statement at any police station irrespective of jurisdiction. The police were ordered to consider the victim’s statement as the ‘gospel truth’ at the time of preparing an FIR. Hence, the symbolic concept of ‘Zero FIR’ came into existence.

What is a Zero FIR?

An FIR is an initial report prepared by the police which captures the information given to them consequently after the commission of a cognizable offence. This information may be given orally or in writing. It must be recorded as per the procedure established under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

In the Lalita Kumari case, the Supreme Court held that a police officer cannot evade his duty of registering a zero FIR; if information about a cognizable offence is disclosed and if an officer refuses to record such information, disciplinary action would be taken against him. The right to file a zero FIR extends to any person who has information pertaining to the commission of a cognizable offence.

Such a person could be the victim herself, a bystander witness, a family member of the victim or even a police officer. A copy of the report must be provided to the informant. Prior to approaching a police station, an informant may not know which police station exercises its jurisdiction in the place of commission of the crime or the circumstances may not allow a person, and especially the victim to go to the police station immediately after the commission of the crime.

In such cases, the informant may approach an officer-in-charge of any other police station. The report is filed with the serial number ‘0’ and then transferred to the police station of competent jurisdiction for conducting further investigation. The establishment of this special procedure helps the victim and her family assert their rights with greater ease. The police can be urged to take its initial action, especially in sexual offences, offences like murder and road accidents.

This becomes important for the compilation of uncorrupted circumstantial evidence instead of having to deduce the facts at a later stage. After some time has passed, the parties involved may easily have the chance to manipulate the situation.

For example, in rape cases, the victim will immediately be sent for a medical examination and her statement will be recorded by a female police constable before the police transfer her case to the relevant jurisdiction. In short, the police can no longer use ‘lack of jurisdiction’ as an excuse for not filing a First Information Report.

Laws Relating To Zero FIR in India

Section 460 of the CrPC lays down a list of irregularities which do not vitiate legal proceedings. Clause (e) states that even though the Magistrate may not be empowered by the law to take cognizance of an offence but he still does so under Section 190 (a) or (b), it would not prove to be frivolous. These sections essentially constitute the legal basis of a Zero FIR as of today, since no explicit provisions have been added to the Code of Criminal Procedure.

One of the most important aspects of the criminal justice system is accessibility to retribution. Victims of rape are highly susceptible to abuse by the police while they are made to go from one place to another for no more than the registration of a simple police report and subsequently, the perpetrators of the crime may easily escape the jurisdiction. It is also extremely humiliating for a victim to repeat the specifics of the gruesome act to the police over and over again.

In a country like India, when a woman alleges rape, often she is made to believe that it was her “fault” worsening her already vulnerable state of mind. As of 2016, 106 rape cases are reported every day across the country and this figure is still on the rise. There isn’t enough awareness about the rights of a victim caught up in a ghastly offence. The police often exploit this lack of knowledge and accept bribes from influential perpetrators.

Police corruption is a topic for another article, but basic know-how and presence of mind can make all the difference in difficult situations. With respect to the statements made above, Zero FIR disguised as a gender-neutral law, amongst other reforms for the protection of women victims, is definitely a phenomenal step towards increasing the accessibility to the criminal justice system. The gender neutrality of this law in some way reflects the idea of advancement of women perpetuated by the ‘He for She’ campaign. There is strength in unity and even greater strength in knowledge.

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